Cultural issues dominated Florida’s 2022 legislative session.
Speech in schools, corporate training programs and other cultural issues received plenty of attention. What about critical issues in South Florida?
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Reforms to condo associations and home insurance went nowhere. Meanwhile, the region is seeing a crush of migrants this year and street drug deaths.
On Monday, Florida legislators approved a record $112 billion spending plan, marking the end of a session dominated by heated partisan and culture clashes over abortion, parents rights in education, immigration, renewable energy and elections.
A number of bills put Florida in the national spotlight while overshadowing critical issues like the rising cost of home insurance, affordable housing and lax condo regulations.
The collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that killed 98 people last year prompted calls for reform at all levels of government.
One bill in the legislature that would have required more recertifications for aging buildings every 30 years died in session. Both the Senate and the House could not agree on whether condo associations should be required to keep financial reserves or money on hand for maintenance.
It was just one of the issues related to housing that went nowhere during the Legislative session.
Nancy Ancrum, the Miami Herald’s editorial page editor, said the inaction means local governments will shoulder the responsibility of requiring building inspections.
“There was a very disturbing hush that I think just played out during this session,” Ancrum said. “It was not a priority, and it’s just a shame.”
When local and statewide building codes changed after Hurricane Andrew tore apart South Florida 30 years ago, lobbyists for the insurance and building industries struggled to reach an agreement, said Palm Beach Post editorial page editor Tony Doris.
Such pending condo reform from Tallhassee has led to a patchwork of recertification ordinances across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. As far as the real estate market is concerned, the onus will fall on the condo buyers and condo dwellers to ask the pertinent questions, Ancrum said.
A called named Norman, a former resident of Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach, says he called the city immediately after Surfside happened.
"I told them to get over to Crestview Towers," he said. The association knew the building was electrically and structurally unsafe.
John, of Wilton Manors, told WLRN that he recently closed on a condominium in December. Two days prior to closing, he found out he’d need to cough up two years of fese (~$10,000) as a “security deposit.”
Someone who bought a place next to him was not asked to do the same.
Steve Bousquet, the editor for South Florida Sun Sentinel’s editorial page, said the varied responses to housing and condo reform are a result of home rule.
“[State lawmakers] don’t want cities and counties acting independently, but they can’t have it both ways,” said Bousquet. “They can’t sit on their hands and do nothing about a tremendous public safety crisis and then criticize those who do [something].”
The Keys have been a hot spot for large groups of Haitian migrants.
Almost 500 Haitians have come ashore in the Florida Keys in the past two weeks. On Monday, more than 120 Haitians aboard a sailboat arrived in the backyard of an oceanfront home on Summerland Key, about 20 miles north of Key West.
Their arrival is part of a recent surge in maritime migration as Haitians try to escape the continuing gang violence and political instability in Haiti.
Many Haitians on the island are fearing for their lives after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a deadly earthquake and the kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries.
The Haitian diaspora has continued to send remittances back to the country, but that may not be enough to help alleviate the issues plaguing Haiti, said Tony Doris of the Palm Beach Post.
“It’s putting together an intellectual international coalition of nations that can help stand Haiti back up because the poor are leaving by raft,” Doris said. “The wealthier ones are going to the Dominican Republic or to the United States. And if everyone leaves, who’s there to fix things?”
The Biden administration signed a $13.6 billion omnibus bill on Tuesday to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The legislation also included language about Haiti that would require briefings to the state department about the ongoing investigation into President Jovenel Moïse.
Immigration was identified as one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s top priorities this legislative session.
State lawmakers passed a measure designed to keep undocumented immigrants out of Florida. It bans state and local governments from contracting with companies if those companies are knowingly transporting someone who is undocumented into Florida.
Bousquet said that instead of looking for a solution, DeSantis is exploiting immigration fears. And he’s not hesitant to challenge advocates of the Haitian community over it.
South Florida’s response to mass overdoses
In less than a week, 10 people in Broward County were hospitalized after overdosing on fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that’s 80 times more potent than morphine and can be deadly.
On Sunday, four men were hospitalized in Fort Lauderdale. Just three days earlier, six college students in Wilton Manors overdosed on substances laced with fentanyl. Four of them were West Point cadets on spring break.
In 2020, Broward County recorded the highest number of fentanyl deaths in the state at 642 people. Palm Beach County had the second highest number of deaths at 634.
That is about two people each day in each county dying from the drug.
The overdoses are now raising concerns about the illicit production of fentanyl in South Florida and the way substance abuse cases are addressed in communities.
The drug is often added to street drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, or produced as a pill. Ancrum said the state legislature was too skittish to deal with a proposal to legalize testing strips that could be used to see if other drugs were laced with fentanyl.
“This is going to be another issue that the locals are going to have to deal with, especially in those counties where overdoses and deaths and just use are off the charts,” Ancrum said. “There are a lot of factors that go into addiction. And when it comes to fentanyl, I don’t think we can forget chronic pain.”
Many drug stores like Walgreens and CVS are now stocked with Narcan — the emergency medicine that reverses opioid overdoses.
Nearly two-thirds of the sheriff’s offices in the state issue Narcan to their deputies and train them how to administer it, that’s according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Meanwhile health advocates in the Keys are also distributing overdose kits as widely as they can.
But while the majority of sheriff’s offices in Florida use it, some don’t, including Palm Beach County. They remain an outlier. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said deputies don’t carry Narcan because of concerns over liability.
But a recent wave in opioid deaths in the county has residents putting pressure on PBSO to carry Narcan.
Bousquet of the Sun Sentinel cited Rust Belt states like West Virginia and Ohio that are dealing with the opioid epidemic. There has also been an uptick in substance abuse, particularly since the onset of the pandemic as more people turned to drugs to cope with high stress and emotions.
“What’s different is the much closer correlation between drug abuse and mental health, which I don’t think was on people’s radar screens and was as well known as it is,” he said.